Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Three Kinds of Research Plans We Use

Humbled by yesterday's hour researching Homer and Charry (Everett) Curtiss, I came to the conclusion that there are three kinds of research plans in this world.
  • The fill-in-the-blanks plan that is aimed at getting dates and places for the people listed on a pedigree chart.
  • The mindful plan, which first understands the historical and cultural structures around the people, then thoughtfully determines what is available and which likely sources might yield the most helpful information. 
  • The scorched-earth plan that is aimed at getting absolutely everything that could possibly exist for the people under study. 
My impulsive fill-in-the-blanks approach to supporting statements of fact on Homer and Charry did not yield fruit. Perhaps it's time for me to take a mindful approach.

Homer and Charry were in Salisbury in their early married life and then in Warren. You can appreciate what context we will find when you notice that Salisbury has borders on two other states, New York and Massachusetts, on the map below.[1] Salisbury, Cornwall, Kent, Canaan, Goshen, and Sharon were original towns in Litchfield County from 1739-1741. Warren was set off from Kent in 1786, i.e., right before Homer's birth.[2]

The Salisbury church records are not a part of Connecticut's statewide index to church records. They are available on microfilm. There are Volumes 1-3 from the church itself, beginning around 1810. Then there is another Volume 1, dating from 1744, and microfilmed in negative. [This reminds me of an old tv show where a man introduced his silent brothers, "This is my brother Larry and my other brother Larry."] The earlier Volume 1 is nearly illegible but does appear to include the admission of "Curtis, Homer & Wife Charity" on 4 January 1816; no date is provided in the dismission column for Homer and Charity.[3]

Here is something interesting to understand about the Congregational Church in Connecticut. It was the established church. In the minds of government officials, its church records were government records until the church was disestablished by a new state constitution. Connecticut prides itself on having had the earliest constitution, which dates from 1639. My ancestors saw no need to willy-nilly alter that just because these new United States were getting a new constitution. Connecticut replaced its constitution in 1822. What this means is that church records are state records up until that point. That is what makes the note at the beginning of the other Volume 1 so interesting. I'll share it with you:

    This photostatic copy of the Salisbury Congregational Church Records, Salisbury, Connecticut, covering the period 1744-1890 was made from the original volume loaned to the Connecticut State Library, April 8, 1949, by Miss Louise Robinson, Lakeville, Connecticut.
    This copy supplements three volumes of Church and Society Records deposited in the Connecticut State Library August 14, 1941, by the Rev. Earl O. Pearman.

The note is signed by James Brewster, State Librarian, and dated May 12, 1949, in Hartford. It makes me shudder to think how far I might have to go to find a version of the other Volume 1 that was remotely legible. That volume was somehow in private hands. One of my next steps is to inquire about how long that loan was for and whether it is among the Congregational Church Records today in the vault at the Episcopal Diocesan House in Hartford. About a dozen Congregational Church volumes are held there as a favor because Congregational House in Hartford doesn't have a climate controlled vault.

The blue town on the lower rung of the county map is Roxbury, where I grew up. It amazes me that GSU was microfilming in this area in 1949, the year of my birth.

[1] Map Credit: Lefferts & Co., Map of Litchfield County, Connecticut, "Litchfield County Real Estate;" , viewed 21 September 2011.

[2] Marcia D. Melnyk [ed.], Genealogist's Handbook for New England Research, 4th edition (Boston: NEHGS, 1999), pp. 25-28.

[3] Salisbury Congregational Church Records, State of Connecticut, Connecticut State Library, Vol. 1, 1744-1890, p. 70, CSL microfilm no. 607, item 1 (donor copy of FHL 5526).


  1. The “mindful” research plan makes us all better researchers because we learn to look at our problems in context. That context is both broad and deep, encompassing history, geography, culture, and belief systems. Plus, it helps us interpret what we find. That’s the thing about research: the more we discover, the more we realize that there’s still lots of stuff left to learn.

    For example, until I read your post, I had not considered the “official” nature of church records in 18th century Connecticut.

    Keep it up! Now I want to know more about “Miss Louise Robinson of Lakeville” and her specific connection to the Salisbury Congregational church records in her custody. And where those records went…

  2. yeah - okay...maybe I am the scorched earth type :-)
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  3. Thank you for this. My grandfather was Rev. Earl O. Pearman. My mother, Nancy May Pearman, was born in Sharon, CT (87 years ago today, in fact) and grew up in the Parsonage of the Congregational Church there in Salisbury. It was nice to see my grandfather's name mentioned in connection with the Church records being deposited in the CT State Library.